What were the Quarter sessions?
Quarter Sessions courts began in Wales after the Acts of Union, 1536-1543. Sessions were held at quarterly intervals in the weeks following the feasts of Epiphany (6th January), Easter, Transition of St Thomas the Martyr (7th July), and Michaelmas (29th September). The court was attended by the Justices of the Peace for the County.
The Quarter Sessions played a major role in the local administration of Denbighshire and Flintshire until the late nineteenth century, when many of its administrative functions were transferred to the County Councils (Formed under Local Government Act 1888). However, the judicial role of the Courts continued until their abolition in 1971.
The records of Denbighshire Quarter Sessions, held at our Ruthin branch, have survived in great quantity from 1541, with the earliest surviving session roll dated 1706. These are some of the earliest quarter sessions records in Wales.
The records of Flintshire Quarter Sessions, held at our Hawarden branch, begin in 1720 with session rolls dating back to 1747.
The Court of Quarter Sessions heard a broad range of cases including burglary, assault, drunkenness, poaching, vagrancy, rioting, unlawful cutting of timber, and encroachment. Forms of punishment handed down by the justices were fines, flogging, imprisonment and transportation. The Court also heard disputes between individuals, such as non-payment of debts, and was responsible for the administration of the Poor Laws. More serious crime was dealt with by The Great Sessions in Wales between 1542 and 1830.
There were numerous administrative matters overseen by the courts, including licensing alehouses, determining wage-levels and controlling registration of charities and nonconformist meeting houses. In addition, the Court had responsibility for overseeing the upkeep of bridges, gaols and houses of correction.
What records can I find at my North East Wales Archive branch?
The Quarter Sessions include records of court in session, administration of county buildings, bridges and highways, enclosure awards and maps and electoral registers.
The Denbighshire Sessions Rolls dated between 1706 and 1800 have been summarised, and a calendar is available in the search-room at Ruthin.
The Flintshire Sessions Rolls dated 1752-1829 have been summarised, and a calendar is available in the search-room at Hawarden.
What language were the records written in?
The Quarter Sessions Records are in English. It is our policy to catalogue records in the language they were originally written.
How can I access these records?
The only digital images of these records available online are the Enclosure Awards and Plans.
You can view the majority of these records in our search-rooms. Book a place in a search-room today.
Please note: Some Quarter Sessions records are bulky and difficult to use. Quarter Sessions Rolls in particular are contained within their original rolled bundles. At the end of each Session, all loose papers and parchments were filed together using a hold in the top left-hand corner of each document, tied with string. These files were then rolled or wrapped in a large sheet of parchment, hence their name ‘Quarter Sessions Rolls’. Therefore they are not the easiest of documents to use, since they are threaded together, and it is not always possible to read each item fully without damaging the fragile records.
There are access restrictions on some Quarter Session records due to the personal and sensitive information contained within court records. See our access page for further details.
What records can I find in other archives and organisations?
The British Library
The British Library in London holds the following records related to Denbighshire Quarter Sessions;
The National Library of Wales
Most of the court’s records for the period 1647-90 including two order books and amongst the Chirk Castle Papers held at the National Library of Wales. These include-
- Order books (1647-62, 1662-75)
- Indictment book (1670-90)
- Precedent book (1661)
- Sessions Rolls (1643-99)
- Estreats of fines and amercements (1641-97)
- Test Act registers and certificates (1673-90)
- Hearth Tax returns (1662-71)
- Accounts of overseers of bridges (1665-78)
- Accounts and papers relating to maimed soldiers (1662-7)
[Note: successive agents at Chirk Castle were also clerks of the peace during this period]
Courts of Great Sessions (similar to the Assizes in England) for more serious judicial and civil proceedings were also held. These were peculiar to Wales and began in 1542. They were abolished when the Assize system was put in their place in 1830. The surviving records of the Courts of Great Sessions are held at the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth.